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AGO 1964 No. 77 - January 20, 1964
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


DISTRICTS ‑- SCHOOLS ‑- COMMUNITY COLLEGE ‑- AUTHORITY TO PURCHASE LAND FOR COMMUNITY COLLEGE PURPOSES ‑- CONDEMNATION ‑- ACREAGE LIMITATION.

(1) Chapter 41, Laws of 1963, which authorizes a school district to condemn and appropriate not more than 75 acres "for any community college or vocational technical school purpose" does not impose any limitation upon the general power of a district to acquire additional acreage by means other than by condemnation.

(2) A school district may legally condemn no more than 75 acres of land for the operation of a community college, even though the community college may offer separate vocational and academic programs.

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                                                                 January 20, 1964

Honorable Frances G. Swayze
State Representative, 26th District
1500 North Warner
Tacoma 6, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 77

Dear Mrs. Swayze:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested the opinion of this office on the following questions:

            (1) Does chapter 41, Laws of 1963, as it applies to community colleges, impose an acreage limitation upon the power of a school district to acquire land, in excess of 75 acres, by means other than condemnation?

            (2) If a community college has separate vocational and academic programs, may 75 acres of land be condemned for each?

            We answer both questions in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Question (1):

            Section 1, chapter 41, Laws of 1963, which amends RCW 28.58.070 reads as follows:

            "The board of directors of any school district of this state may proceed to condemn and appropriate not more than fifteen acres of land for any elementary school purpose ((,)); not more than twenty-five acres for any junior high school purpose ((and)); not more than forty  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] acres for any senior high school purpose;not more than seventy-five acres for any community college or vocational technical school purpose, and not more than fifteen acres for any other school district purpose.  Such condemnation proceedings shall be in accordance with the laws of this state providing for appropriating private property for public use."

            Prior to its most recent amendment (chapter 41, Laws of 1963), RCW 28.58.070 was construed inState ex rel. Tacoma School District # 10 v. Stojack, 53 Wn.2d 55, 330 P.2d 567 (1958).  In that case the court held that the acreage limitation contained in the statute applied only to land acquired by condemnation and did not limit acquisition by other means.  The essence of that decision was expressed as follows:

            "Two facts are apparent from this survey of the present statutes:  First, the power of school districts to acquire land by purchase, free of any acreage limitation, came into existence prior to the right of acquisition by eminent domain; and, second, the right of school districts to acquire property by eminent domain (which at first had no acreage limitation) was established as anindependent, additional method of acquiring property.  The power of condemnation was not an amendment to the statutory power of a district to purchase property, nor is it a limitation thereof, in the absence of an expressed intent of the legislature.

            "The trial court erred when it concluded that the school district was not entitled to condemn defendant's property because the district already owned seventy-three acres of land."  (Emphasis supplied.) (pp. 62, 63)

            It is clear from a reading of § 1, chapter 41, Laws of 1963, that in amending RCW 28.58.070 the legislature in no way changed its meaning.  The amendment simply expanded the statute's coverage.

            Therefore, the reasoning of the Stojack case, supra, must be held to be controlling.  This is particularly true in view of the rule that the legislature must be presumed to have had in mind the decisions  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] of the court construing prior provisions when it enacted amendatory legislation.  In re Candell, 54 Wn.2d 276, 340 P.2d 173 (1959).

            Accordingly, we conclude that chapter 41, Laws of 1963, does not restrict the power of a school district to acquire land in excess of 75 acres by means other than condemnation.  The only acreage limitation imposed is that the total amount of land acquired "by condemnation" shall not exceed 75 acres.

            Question (2):

            You have informed this office that you are concerned with a community college with academic and vocational programs and not with a community college and a separate vocational technical school.  In this regard it might be well to note that the statutes dealing with community colleges contemplate such a dichotomy within a community college as well as separate vocational technical schools.  See, RCW 28.84.1701/ and chapter 28.09 RCW, RCW 28.84.250.

            Section 1, chapter 41, Laws of 1963, provides in pertinent part:

            "The board of directors of any school district of this state may proceed to condemn . . .not more than seventy-five acres for any community college or vocational technical school purpose. . . ."   [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] It is a fundamental rule of statutory construction that:

            "Where the language of a statute is plain, free from ambiguity, and devoid of uncertainty, there is no room for construction because the meaning will be discovered from the wording of the statute itself. Shelton Hotel Co. v. Bates, 4 Wn.2d 498, 104 P.2d 478."  (State v. Houck, 32 Wn.2d 681, 684, 203 P.2d 693 (1949).)

            It is clear from the language of the statute that a community college may not condemn more than 75 acres.  Since a single integrated community college exists despite the fact it may have various programs, we conclude that a community college may not condemn more than 75 acres of land notwithstanding the fact that such a college has both academic and vocational programs.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

GARY SULLIVAN
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/"A community college shall be an institution established with the approval of the state board of education and maintained and operated by a school district, offering two year post high school curricula of general education or vocational-technical education, or both.  The community college program shall offer:

            "(1) Curricula designed as preparatory to admission to an institution of higher learning with advanced standing, or

            "(2) Curricula designed as preparatory and/or as an extension to vocational-technical pursuits, or both, and may offer in addition thereto either or both of the following:

            "(a) Curricula designed for adult education, or

            "(b) A continuing course of activities designed to fulfill the cultural needs of the community, including, but not limited to, lectures and lecture forums, art, science and natural history exhibits, seminars, discussion groups, library discussion groups, and consultative use of members of the faculty in the community."

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